Brewing the perfect cup of tea – the hailed summit that every tea lover strives for during the years of practice and dedication! Indeed, to brew tea in the best way is an art that includes several key components: the quality of the tea leaves, the temperature and nature of the water, and the steeping time, considered the Holy Trinity of them all. When it comes to fine tuning, though, some low-key factors strongly impact the outcome. The technique used for pouring water is one of them. While most of us pay close attention to the type of tea and the water temperature, the way we pour water over our tea leaves often goes overlooked. Yet, it's a crucial step that can significantly influence our tea's flavor, aroma, and overall enjoyment.
In this blog post, we dive into water-pouring techniques for brewing tea. It might surprise you, but how you pour water can transform your tea experience. Every detail matters, from the height of the pour to the speed and the angle. Whether you're a seasoned tea enthusiast or just starting to explore the vast universe of tea, understanding these techniques can elevate your brew to new heights. So, grab your favorite teapot (or gaiwan) and let's explore how a simple change in your pouring method can unleash the full potential of your tea leaves.
Unlocking Flavor: Water's Impact When We Brew Tea
There is a reason that ancient Chinese stated that "Water is the mother of tea" more than a millennium ago. When we brew tea, water is the environment that facilitates (or impedes) the extraction of the delicate compounds hidden within tea leaves, directly influencing the flavor, aroma, and overall taste profile of your brew. Thus, it's a critical component that shapes our cup of tea.
Different types of water can affect your tea differently. The ancient Chinese first set the notoriously rigorous requirements for the tea brewing water. Nowadays, we measure and evaluate water's PH, hardness, and minerality in an attempt to find the perfect ratio for achieving the best tea brew. Hard water, with its high mineral content, can sometimes mask the subtleties of tea, while softer water tends to let the true flavors of the tea come forward. Alkaline water provides unmatched freshness, while neutral or slightly acidic water brings out most of the tea leaves content into the brew. Combining ancient knowledge with today's scientific approach, we know that the ideal water to use when we brew tea is from a clean source, soft and neutral in nature, allowing the tea's flavors to be the focal point of the tea brew.
Knowing how water impacts tea is crucial for any tea lover. It's not just about heating any water and adding tea leaves; it's about doing it the right way to ensure that the tea's flavors are fully expressed. The correct water choice can turn a regular tea session into an exceptional one, where each sip fully explores the tea's potential.
On Tea Rinsing
Rinsing is a part of the tea brewing process, where we briefly pour water over the tea leaves and discard the very first brew. As tea enters into first contact with water during tea rinsing, there are many questions about whether this is needed and how it impacts tea's flavor and aroma in subsequent brews. In this blog post, we elaborate on tea rinsing and its impact on tea.
Generally, tea rinsing is not a compulsory part of the tea brewing process. Whether we do it or not largely depends on the tea type we're brewing. Tender teas with delicate leaves, like loose leaf green tea, teas with broken leaves, like sencha, and naturally, powdered teas, like matcha, are best left un-rinsed. The main reason behind this is that the tender, delicate leaves do not endure heat. They will give out most of what they preserve in the first couple of brews. Thus, by rinsing green tea, you void it of more than half of its inner content. That will drastically decrease both the flavor and aroma, as well as the number of brews you can obtain from it. All the more so for broken-leaf and powdered teas, that emit their content much faster than a whole-leafed tea. So, it's best to remove rinsing from the tea brewing process when dealing with a delicate tea.
On the other hand, there are plenty of teas where rinsing will not harm but even enhance their purity and flavor. Let's briefly go through such cases:
- Minimally processed teas with thicker, more enduring leaves, like white tea, will surely benefit from rinsing. As they have not undergone thorough processing, their cell walls remain intact, making it harder for the water to infuse and extract the inner content. An additional step of tea rinsing can soften the thick leaves and make it easier to get through to the flavor and aroma-forming compounds.
- Compressed teas, like Hei Cha and Pu-erh, tend to infuse slowly due to the tightly condensed leaves. Tea rinsing with hot water helps loosen the leaves and release the flavors on the surface.
- Teas with storage environment/ hygienic concerns. While it doesn't necessarily mean that tea is dirty or contaminated, tea storage environment and conditions can vary greatly. If you don't know and trust the seller personally, it's a safe bet to rinse the tea before brewing. To the least, dust and small debris might accumulate during storage, and in case of an unstable storage environment (i.e., humidity fluctuations), you save yourself the trouble of undesired taste, smell, or unidentified small findings in your cup :)
We've rounded up the water's role and importance in infusing the environment and key factors for releasing the tea's inner content. Now, let's explore the effect of different water pouring techniques on when we brew tea from various tea types.
The Art of Water Pouring: Enhancing Your Tea Experience
The temperature and the time of interaction with the tea leaves are undoubtedly the most important ways water impacts the tea brew in our teapot. However, when it comes to the subtle details, they are not the only ones. How we pour water onto the tea leaves also affects how the aroma and taste come out and how the tea soup will manifest in our cup. That happens through finer interaction between the tea and water, namely the speed, angle, and direction of pouring and the degree of direct/ indirect contact with the leaves. Let's take a closer look:
- High and fast: the water jet is high, pouring faster. The kettle spout is fixed at a point on the walls of the gaiwan/ teapot, at about 45º angle (1:30; 4:30, 7:30, 10:30 o'clock), without directly touching the tea leaves. This pouring creates a swirling motion that rotates and whirls the tea leaves, causing an intense release of aromatic substances. Highly aromatic teas like Hong Cha and Wulong will benefit from this pouring, boosting the aroma release. At the same time, their leaves are enduring enough not to be damaged by the speed and intensity of the water jet.
- High and slow: the water jet is fixed as explained above, but the pouring speed is slow. The water gently submerges the tea leaves without harming their tenderness. This technique is particularly good for more delicate teas like Green Tea. The slow pouring speed also helps cool down the water. This, in turn, prevents the sudden release of too much of the inner compounds (especially antioxidants) at once, which might result in over-bitterness. That is important for some unripe and potent teas, like young Raw Pu-erh.
- Low and slow: the water jet is aimed at a fixed point, pouring slowly from a lower position near the teapot/gaiwan. That keeps the water hot enough to fully extract the tea leaves' inner content; at the same time, the slow pouring speed prevents the delicate leaves from being damaged or torn. This technique is especially good with Hei Cha / Shu Pu-erh. Those teas require high temperature that can loosen up the tightly compressed tea leaves and fully bring into play the taste and aroma, trapped inside. Simultaneously, pouring the water at a slow speed ensures that the fragile, partially digested leaves will not be harmed in the process.
- Low and fast: the pouring speed is fast, water jet comes from a lower point near the brewing vessel. This pouring technique provides hot enough water that applies enough pressure to loosen and wake up extra tightly compressed teas. Suitable for Pu-erh tea cakes that have been compressed particularly well (e.g. Iron Cakes) and some Hei Cha tea bricks (generally, the tea bricks have a higher level of compression than tea cakes).
- Circular motion (endless circle): the water jet draws circles around the circumference of the brewing vessel, aiming at the walls. Suitable for delicate to mid-resistant teas like Green, Yellow, Oolong, and Red Tea. While the swirling brings out the flavor inside the leaves, the lack of direct contact with the water jet keeps them intact and prevents them from steeping too intensely.
- Spiral pouring (archer's mark): The water jet circles the brewing vessel's walls, and then runs at a fixed point in the middle. This technique is suitable for resistant teas that need additional stimulation to release their taste and aroma fully. Suitable for compressed Pu-erh and Hei Cha.
Check out our video tutorial on the various water-pouring techniques!